The Golden Mountain, by Meyer Levin, , at sacred-texts.com
There was a great king whose realm was so wide that a man might walk all the days of his life without coming to the border of the king's lands. This king had a beautiful queen, whose servant was a shrunken old woman with evil eyes. In a cottage near the palace there lived a gardener, with his wife.
It so happened that on the same day, and at the very same hour, a son was born to the queen, and to the gardener's wife. Then the queen's aged servant thought, "What will happen, if I put one child in place of the other? Is there anything within them that causes one child to be kingly, and makes a peasant of the other?" So she took the queen's babe, wrapped him in rough spun sacking, and placed him in the bed of the gardener's wife; then she took the peasant's son, and swaddled him in the silken coverlets of the royal nursery, and placed him in the queen's bed. The children grew, and only the old servant knew that they had been interchanged.
But the boy in the palace felt himself drawn to the soil, and often ran out to play in the garden: there he would help the gardener dig the earth, and plant seeds. He became friends with the child who was thought to be the gardener's son, and took him into the palace to sit with him through his lessons, thus both boys studied together, and the boy from the gardener's cottage was quick to learn languages and the laws of governing a state.
Meanwhile the old servant who had put one child
in place of the other felt her death coming near, and the secret of the thing she had done troubled her so that she could not keep it within herself. "There will be no room for so great a secret in my grave," she thought. She wanted to tell her secret, but she did not know to whom to tell it. Then one day as she sat in her lonely hut she told the secret to the four walls. The walls told it to the wind, and the wind passed a man walking in the road, the man heard the secret and told it to his friend, his friend had a friend, and each friend had another friend, so that soon the secret, whispered from one man to another, in the taverns, over drinking cups, in bed, in the fields and woods, became known to all the people in the kingdom. Only the king and queen and the gardener and his wife knew nothing of the secret.
For if the king had known, what might he have done? He could not trust in the truth of a thing that was whispered, therefore he could not return each child to his place, for he might never be sure which of them was truly his son.
But one day a soldier in the palace became drunk, and talked with the prince and said to him, "You are not really the prince, but the son of the gardener. It is whispered all over the kingdom that the other boy is the true prince. And I tell you this as a warning, so that if ever there may be an uprising to place him upon the throne, you are warned."
The false prince was troubled, but would not believe the tale. Nevertheless, he thought it would be better if the gardener's boy were out of the kingdom. He began to bring troubles upon the gardener, that he might flee the land. In secret, the prince would
creep into the garden and destroy the plants, so that the poor man would have to work night and day to earn his bread; and even then, his crops were spoiled, and the king was dissatisfied with him, and his life was miserable.
Not long after that, the king died, and the false prince became the ruler of the country. Then he was even more harsh with the gardener, who was fallen into poverty and illness from overwork. The gardener complained to a friend, saying, "I don't know why my work goes against me. And the king has taken a dislike to me, so that nothing I do pleases him."
The friend took pity on the gardener, and told him what everyone knew. "If you will send your boy out of the country," he said, "the king will look kindly upon you."
The gardener did not want to send the boy away, but if things went on as they were, they would all starve. So he told the boy, "It is whispered among the people that you are truly the old king's son, that the present king is my son, and that in childhood you were put one in place of the other. Now it is too late to remedy the wrong, and the king fears you will seize the throne that may be yours by right. Therefore you must go out of the country." He gave the boy all the money he could borrow, and the boy went into exile.
His heart was bitter, for he thought, "I have been driven from the country where I should truly be ruler." But again he thought, "Perhaps the whole story is an old wives’ tale, and a falsehood; how might I ever know that I was truly born a king?"
He was sore and lonely, banished from his country.
[paragraph continues] "For if I am indeed the king's son," he thought, "I should certainly not have been banished. And if I am not the king's son, then why must I suffer this punishment?"
In his bitterness and loneliness away from home he sought for amusement; he went into the wineshops and drank; he went among women, and was gay.
Meanwhile the false king governed with a mighty hand, and wherever a rumour of his true birth arose, he punished those who were heard to repeat it, so that not even a whisper of truth was allowed in the land. Nevertheless, he had dreams. He dreamed that he must give up his kingdom, and go away, wherever he might be led. Twice he had the same dream.
On the third day he summoned his courtiers to go on a hunt with him; they rode into the woods, and came to a beautiful place where the sun shone among the trees, and upon a pool of water. "Let us rest here awhile," said the king. He dismounted from his horse, and lay down to sleep beneath a tree.
He did not know whether he was awake or asleep, but felt his mind troubled, and it was as if the boy who had been his playmate in the garden and in the schoolroom stood by his side and talked with him. "It was an unjust thing to banish me," the boy said. And the king thought to himself, "Surely it was unjust, for if he is the king's true son, the kingdom is his by right, and if he is the gardener's son, why should he be punished?" The false king was deeply troubled in his thoughts, he dreamed again; then he opened his eyes, and saw the sky through the leaves of the trees.
"I will not hunt today," he said. And he called the
courtiers, and cried to them, "Turn home! I will not hunt!"
The courtiers saw that the king was troubled, and in a dark mood, so they mounted on their horses, and turned their heads homeward. The king arose after them, but when he went to mount his steed, he could not find him. Then he saw the horse not far away, nibbling among the trees, and the king went after the horse.
The exiled prince had spent all of his money in drink and in easy living. Now when he was poor and could no longer drink away his sorrow, the thought came to him, "And if I were truly a prince, would I live as I have been living?" That night he slept in a field, and dreamed. He dreamed that he came to a fair in a neighbouring city, and that a man approached him and asked him if he wanted to work. And he knew that no matter how lowly the toil, he must do it.
When he awoke the true prince remembered this dream, though often dreams go out of the mind. Yet he thought, "How should I, who am born a prince, become a low servant to the first man who asks my hire?" And instead he begged money, and bought drink.
But at night he dreamed again, and saw the fair, and heard a voice saying, "Whatever work is offered you, you must do." And though he would not go that day either, the dream came to him a third time.
Then he sold the fine garments which he still wore, and put on the clothes of a wayfarer, and went to the market. He came to the city at night, and slept there. He arose very early in the morning and went out into
the road. Soon a merchant came riding towards him, crying, "You, there, do you want to work?"
The prince knew that he must answer "Yes," and do whatever the man asked of him. So he answered, "Yes. What kind of work have you?"
"I need a herdsman," the man said. "Come with me."
The prince was sorry that he must go, for he was delicately made, and he was frightened of the rough manners and the angry voice of his master. He asked, "Must I drive the herds myself?"
"I have other drivers waiting," the merchant told him. And they went to a courtyard where a number of servants waited. Then the merchant gave the prince a herd of cattle to watch, and all the herdsmen with their flocks started on the highway that led out of the city, while the prince drove his cattle along with the others. The merchant rode on his horse, carrying a heavy stick in his hand; he rode up and down from one herd to another, shouting at the men and at the beasts with great cruelty, and sometimes knocking at them with his stick.
Often he rode up to the prince, urging him roughly onward, and the prince shrank with fear, for his skin was delicate, and he thought that if the merchant struck him with the heavy stick he would surely bleed.
After some hours they stopped by the wayside, and the merchant took bread out of a sack and gave it to the herdsmen; they divided the bread amongst themselves, and ate. The prince ate with them; when they had eaten, they started again on their journey.
They came to a forest. As they were passing through the forest, two of the prince's cattle turned away from
the herd, and ran among the trees. The prince ran to catch them, but as soon as he came near them the beasts ran farther into the woods, and in a few moments they led him to where the trees grew so thick that he could no longer see his companions, nor could they see him. Then the prince thought, "If I return without the cattle, the master will kill me; and if I remain here in the wood, I'll be killed by wild beasts." But he was so afraid of the master that he thought he would rather be killed by wild beasts, and he ran farther into the forest after the two cows.
Night came, but he had not caught them. He heard the cries of the forest creatures, and when he thought that he must pass the night alone in that wild place, he felt himself frozen with fear. At last he climbed up into a tree, and lay among the branches, and slept.
At dawn he was awakened by the howling of wild beasts. Then he heard a sound like soft laughter. He looked down from the branches, and he saw the two cows standing quietly underneath his tree. The prince climbed down, but as soon as he came near the cows they began to run again, and he went after them. The cattle found grass, and stopped to nibble the grass, and he crept close, but the instant he was near enough to seize them, they ran again. So he followed after them all day, farther into the heart of the forest, until there were no paths anywhere, but only the tangled ways of a great wilderness inhabited by beasts that had no fear of men.
The prince was more frightened than before; but when night came he saw a great tree standing alone near a pool of water; he climbed into that tree to sleep.
As he reached the wide branches he was startled,
for he saw another man sitting in the tree. And though the prince was startled, he was glad, for now he would not be so lonesome in the forest.
The prince spoke to the man. "Who are you?"
"A man," he answered. And asked, "Who are you?"
The prince answered, "A man."
The man said, "Where do you come from?"
"Two cows escaped from my herd," the prince answered, "and I followed them into the forest but could not catch them." Then he said, "Where do you come from?"
"My horse ran away," the man said, "and I followed him but could not catch him."
Then they swore to remain together in the forest, and to be friends even when they came out of the forest. And they went to sleep.
Towards dawn, they were awakened by a great laughter. It was not like human laughter, but it was like the sound the prince had heard softly the night before; this time it was so loud that it seemed as though all the leaves in the forest, and all the branches, shook with laughter, while all the wild beasts howled with strange glee. The very branches in which they slept rocked upon the sounds, and the prince, awakening, cried out:
"What is that laughter?"
"Don't be afraid," said his companion. "This is not the first night I have passed in this place. With every coming of dawn, this laughter comes."
Still, the prince was uneasy, for where men lived there had never been such laughter. It seemed to him that this must be a place inhabited by devils, for where
else might there be a whole world of laughter? He looked down from the tree, thinking he would see devils below him, but instead he saw his two cows standing there peacefully, and near them stood a horse.
Then the prince and his companion went down, from the tree, but at once the animals began to run away from them; the horse ran one way, and the cows another, and each man went after his own, so they were separated from each other.
When the prince had gone a long while after the cows, he saw something on the ground before him; he picked it up: it was a sack filled with bread. He was very pleased to find such a thing in a forest where no men came; he took the sack on his back.
After a time he came quite close to the cattle, but before he could seize them, a little man ran across his way. He was frightened, but again he was glad to see a human being. The old man asked, "How did you get here?" And the prince replied, "How did you get here?"
Then the old man said, "It is simple enough for me to answer, for I was born here, and so was my father before me, and so was his father. But how did you get here?"
When the prince heard this, he knew that the creature could not be a human being, as no men came so far into the forest. But he answered. "My cows ran away, and I followed them."
The gnome laughed softly at him, but it was laughter that he thought he had heard before. "These are not cows," the little man said; "they are only your sins. You have pursued them long enough, and your
punishment is over; now it is time for you to receive that which is yours. Come with me."
The prince walked after the wood-sprite, but he was afraid to speak with him, thinking, "Perhaps he is a demon. He may open his mouth and swallow me!"
After they had gone a short distance, the prince saw his companion of the night before, whom he had lost. He motioned to the man not to go near the wood-sprite, and then lagged behind and said to the man, "That is not a human being at all, but a creature of the woods. Who knows what he may be!" Meanwhile the man saw that the prince carried a sack of bread on his shoulders, so he cried out, "Give me bread to eat! It is many days since I have eaten!"
When he heard this, the prince thought, "We are in a wilderness where there is no food." So he said to the man, "What will you give me for bread?" The man thought, "What is worth more than bread in the wilderness?" and no riches seemed great enough to buy the bread. "I'll sell you myself!" he cried. "I'll be your eternal slave, only give me bread!"
Then the prince gave the man bread to eat, and promised to share the food with him as long as it remained, and took the man for his slave; even if they would come out of the wilderness, the man promised, he would remain his slave.
So they went on; the gnome went first, and the prince followed him, and the slave followed after the prince.
They came to a place where there were no more trees, but before them lay a morass of oozing mud filled with writhing snakes and hissing scorpions.
The prince cried, "How will we pass over this place?"
The little creature smiled on him and said, "If you cannot even pass over this place, how will you get into my house?" And he showed them his house, that hung high in the air.
The prince and his slave stared in wonder. But the being took each of them by the hand, and went through the air with them into his house.
He gave them pillows to lie upon, and showed them a table that was laden with wonderful foods and fine drink. "Eat and drink," he said, and he went from the room.
Then the slave had to serve his master with food, and he was sorry and angry for having sold himself for bread only an hour before, when now he had plenty. He grumbled and he sighed, saying, "Oh, that a person such as I should become a lowly slave."
The prince said to him, "What were you before, that slavehood is so far beneath you?"
The man said, "I was a king. But perhaps slavery is my true and deserved place."
"Why do you say that?" asked the prince.
Then the man, who was really the gardener's son who had in childhood been changed for a prince, told the true prince how there had been rumours in his kingdom that his throne belonged to another, and how he had sent that other into exile.
"Then I had dreams," the man said. "In my dreams it seemed to me that the exiled one was truly king, and that I should give up my kingdom, and go out, and go wherever I was led. At first I did not heed the dreams, but one day I went into the forest to hunt,
and I dreamed again, and when I awoke I followed my horse into the woods. And so I became your slave."
The prince listened, and knew who it was that spoke, but himself remained silent.
At night the little old man came to them and showed them their beds, and they went to sleep. But toward dawn they were once more awakened by the strange laughter; this time it was louder than ever before; the branches of the trees were broken by the gales of laughter, and the house rocked as upon the waves of laughter. The slave said to the true prince, "Perhaps if you will ask the little man, he will tell you what sort of laughter that is."
When the wood-sprite came to them, the prince said, "What is the cause of the laughter that comes at dawn?"
"Oh," said the little man, "that is only Day laughing at Night, for at that hour Night asks of the Day: 'Why is it that when you come, I no longer have a name?' And then the Day laughs, and it is Day. That is the laughter that is heard at dawn."
Still the prince wondered.
During the day they had great pleasure, eating, and drinking; the prince leaned on the pillows, and the slave served him. Then they slept. But that night they were awakened by the voices of beasts. They heard the booming of the lion, the panther's shriek, the twittering and crying of birds, and the calls of all the wild creatures of the forest; the sounds of the beasts and the birds became louder and wilder; never before had there been such a furious noise of howling and barking and roaring and shrieking together. The men listened. But after they had listened well awhile, they
were no longer terrified by the sounds. "Do you hear?" the prince said, "it is sometimes like a song." They listened, and at moments the howling and shrieking and roaring came to them as a strange and beautiful song. They listened more eagerly, and then the song became clearer, and each moment it became more beautiful, until to hear it was a pleasure greater than all the pleasures that men know on earth. The melody was so wildly beautiful that they wanted to remain there forever, listening.
Then the servant begged the prince to ask the wood-being what sort of music it was that they heard. And when the little man came into the room, the prince asked him, "Where does that singing come from?"
"The sun has woven a new silver gown for the moon," the wood-being said, "and therefore all the creatures of the wood are singing. For you know that the moon is their friend, since the moon lights their way at night when they must go forth in search of food. And so they have made a new melody for the moon."
"I have never heard anything so wonderful as their song," the prince said.
"Haven't you?" cried the gnome. "Then listen! I have a flute that was given to me by my father, who had it from his father, who had it from his father before him. It is made of strange reeds and wondrous leaves, and you have only to touch any bird or beast with the wand, and the creature will begin to sing a music that is more beautiful than this."
Just then the laughter that came before dawn was heard again; the whole world laughed, and day came.
[paragraph continues] The little man went out of the room. Then the prince cried, "I would like to have that magic reed he spoke of!" and he arose and searched every corner of the chamber, but could not find the wand.
When the prince had finished seeking, the gnome returned and said to them, "It is time that you returned to the world of men."
"How can we go there?" said the prince.
"I'll show you the way," the gnome answered. Then the little man took the magic flute with him, and he led them out of the house that hung in the air, over the morass of snakes and scorpions, back to dry earth.
"Which way shall we go?" asked the prince.
"Go to the land of the Foolish People With The Wise King. For there you will come into your right," he said to the prince. "And with your servant, you will know how to deal." Then he took the reed from his pocket and gave it to the prince, saying, "This is for you."
The prince took the flute with delight, and looked about for an animal whom he might touch with the wand, that they might again hear the song of the wild creatures. But he could not find a single beast.
"Now you must go," the wood-sprite said.
"Which way shall we go?" asked the prince.
The little man raised his arm and pointed, and they went that way.
They went a long time through the wilderness, always seeking some animal who might be made to sing, but they saw no living creature.
At last the prince and his servant came to the land of the Foolish People With The Wise King. The kingdom
was girt around by a high wall, and there was only one gate in the wall, through which strangers might pass into the kingdom. They followed the wall for a long time until they came to the gate.
But the guards at the gate would not allow them to enter, for the king of that country had died, and though his son who ruled after him was learned when compared to other men, he was so little wise when compared to his father that the country was now called the land of the Wise People With The Foolish King. And the former king had commanded that only the man who could again make the country known as the land of the Foolish People With The Wise King should be crowned to succeed him. So no one was allowed to enter the country unless he undertook to make it the land of the. Wise King.
"Can you do that?" the guards asked of the prince.
"How can I do that?" thought the prince, and he was afraid to try. His slave said, "Let us go home." But as they stood there another stranger, riding a horse, came and stopped by the gate to the kingdom. Then as the prince saw the horse he thought, "Now I can try the magic flute!" and he ran up and touched the horse with the reed. At once the animal began to sing the wildly sweet song of the beasts, and all who heard were astonished.
The stranger who rode the horse cried, "Sell me that magic reed!" But the prince would not part with it.
"Fool!" said the stranger, and he was as one who was known to them, "Of what use can the reed be to you? You will go about making jokes with it, and perhaps someone will give you a gulden for your
folly! Rather become a man than a child. I have a thing I can give you in exchange for the wand."
"What is it?" asked the prince.
"I can give you the secret of understanding the meaning of the thing within the thing. It is a secret that was given me by my father, who had it from his father, who had it from his own father before him. And I have never told it to anyone."
The prince was satisfied, and gave the man the flute, and the man went aside with him and taught him to know the meaning that is at the heart of each thing.
And when the prince understood how one thing comes from another, he returned to the gate, and knew that he must go in and try to give back to the land its former name. So he was taken before the court of noblemen who were the judges of wisdom, and they said to him, "Know, that we ourselves are no fools, but the king who died was so marvellously wise that against him we were as fools, and the country was called the land of the Foolish People With The Wise King. When the king died he left a son who was no simpleton, but against our wisdom he seemed as simple as a fool, so the land was changed and called the land of the Wise People With The Foolish King. Now whoever brings back the former name may be crowned our ruler, but if you would test your wisdom for this task you must go into the garden that was left by our wise king."
He was told that the king's garden was a wondrous place where things of gold and silver grew, but that since the king's death no man had been able to remain in the garden, for as soon as he entered, he was
pursued, and he would run, and run faster, but he would be pursued until he ran out of the garden, and pursued until he was far away.
"Who is it that runs after him?" asked the prince.
"No one knows. No man has ever seen his pursuers in the garden. But those who have tried to remain there have come running from the place, scarcely alive."
"Are they beaten by the pursuers?" the prince asked.
"They are not badly beaten, but they are frightened, and ill with running."
The prince was taken to the garden; he saw that there was a wall around it, with a wide-open gate in the wall, for such a garden needed no guards.
And as he was about to enter the garden, the prince noticed a statue that stood outside the gate. He went up to the statue and saw that it was the image of a king, and on the stone it was written that the king had lived long ago, and there had been war until his reign, and war after his reign, but while he ruled there had been peace.
Then the prince, who understood the meaning within each thing, knew that this statue would protect him, and that if he were pursued he had only to come near the statue, and he would be safe. He knew also that if he caused the statue to be brought into the garden, there would be no more pursuit in the garden.
He went through the gate, and saw a strangely beautiful place, where all the trees and flowers and grass that grew were of gold and silver and other precious metals. But at once he felt himself being pursued. So he went and stood near the statue, and the noise of his pursuers was gone, and he had not
been touched, but was calm and safe. Then the prince called his slave and told him to take the statue into the garden.
And now he walked about in the midst of the garden, and all was peaceful and calm. When the noble judges came he led them into the garden, and they saw that he had brought peace into that place.
"Truly," they said, "you have proven your wisdom. But for this proof alone we cannot make you our king. There is another thing that you must do." And they took him into a great room in the palace. High at the end of the room stood a throne that was richly carved of precious wood, upon the throne were carven all the beasts and the birds that lived within the kingdom. Before the throne there was a couch, and near the couch stood a table, and on the table was a seven-branched candelabrum. Seven ways went out from the throne, and upon each way there stood a marvellous beast or bird: on one path there stood a lion of gold, on another an iron panther, a silver eagle was upon the third, and so on each way there stood a different creature.
"In former times," the nobleman said, "the king sat upon his throne, and the candles burned, and he looked down these seven ways and saw all the ends of his kingdom, and knew all that was happening and all that might take place; and each night when the moon arose the beasts and the birds that guard the seven ways would raise their voices and sing a wildly sweet melody. But now the king is dead, the candles do not burn, the paths are dim, and the beasts have become ferocious so that no man may come near them, but they open their mouths and swallow him."
Then the prince, who understood the meaning
within each thing, went up to the carven throne and looked well upon it and saw that it was made of the same wood as his magic flute, and he saw that the throne was perfect except for a small piece that was missing from a carven creature at the top of the chair. Then he knew that the former king had taken that piece from its place and hidden it, wisely knowing that when a wise man would come he would find each thing, and put each thing again in its proper place. So the prince looked about the room, and looked behind the throne, and found the missing piece and put it back in its place; then he sat upon the throne.
The prince looked at the table before him, and saw that it was moved a hair's breadth from the central point where all the seven ways came together, and he ordered his slave to place the table back where it belonged; and then he saw that the seven-branched menorah had been moved, and when that was placed in the centre of the table the candles burned again.
And by their light, the prince saw that each of the creatures that stood in the seven ways had been moved a hair's breadth from his place, and he ordered them to be put back in their proper places. Then, when all things were restored to order, it was midnight, and the beasts and the birds all opened their mouths and began to sing the wild sweet melody that all creatures sing to the moon.
The prince was crowned king, and then he said to his servant, "Now I understand that I was truly born the son of a king, and you were born the son of a servant."